U.S. Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), known for his incendiary remarks about Muslim Americans, has asked for a round of hearings into the radicalization of Muslim America – a move at least one member of Congress worries smacks of a Joseph McCarthy-style witch hunt.
In an editorial published this week in Newsday, and in subsequent cable news interviews, King, the incoming chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, voiced concerns that American Muslims are being recruited to serve as domestic proxies for radical Islam. He said law enforcement should investigate what he describes as “homegrown terrorism.”
“I will do all I can to break down the wall of political correctness and drive the public debate on Islamic radicalization. These hearings will be a step in that direction. It’s what democracy is all about,” King wrote, adding that, “To some in the strata of political correctness, I’m a pretty bad guy. To be blunt, this crowd sees me as an anti-Muslim bigot.”
According to The New York Times, King cites as an argument for his hearings the case of Najibullah Zazi, an Afghan resident of the United States arrested last year for plotting to bomb the New York City subway system. King said that an imam in Queens who had been a police informant warned Zazi before his arrest. “When I meet with law enforcement, they are constantly telling me how little cooperation they get from Muslim leaders,” King told the Times.
Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Center for American-Islamic Relations, disputed King’s claim that American Muslims do not cooperate with police agencies. Hooper said several law enforcement bodies, including the FBI, have thanked Muslim communities for their assistance. He said King’s history of harsh comments against Muslims undermines the congressman’s credibility to make such claims. “He doesn’t come to this issue with clean hands,” Hooper said. “He comes with the strong perception of bias and an anti-Muslim agenda, and that’s exactly what we don’t need at a time when anti-Muslim sentiment is skyrocketing.”
In a 2007 interview with Politico.com, King said, “We have too many mosques in this country. There are too many people sympathetic to radical Islam.” He later qualified the statement, saying, “The quote was taken entirely out of context by Politico. My position in this interview, as it has been for many years, is that too many mosques in this country do not cooperate with law enforcement. Unfortunately, Politico was incapable of making this distinction.”
It is not yet clear what “breaking down the wall of political correctness” will look like in King’s hearings. Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), the first Muslim to be elected to Congress and a vocal opponent of efforts to denigrate Muslims, said he is fearful that King’s hearings will cast a net of prejudice not seen since U.S. Sen. Joe McCarthy of Wisconsin staged his infamous hunt for communists in government in the 1950s.
“What did Joe McCarthy do? He identified people he thought were subversives and then used his congressional gavel to hold hearings to drag people in,” Ellison told HateWatch. “He ruined a lot of reputations and injected a tremendous amount of fear in our country.”
Lately, a number of extreme right-wing commentators have spoken favorably of McCarthy and his efforts in a bid to revive and restore luster to his legacy.
The public may be receptive to King’s promised hearings. TIME magazine’s August cover asked, “Is America Islamophobic?” A TIME-Abt SRBI poll this fall found that 46 percent of Americans believe Islam is more likely than other faiths to encourage violence against non-believers. Only 37 percent knew a Muslim in America. Groups such as Pam Geller’s group Stop the Islamization of America (SOIA) and Brigitte Gabriel’s American Congress for Truth (ACT! for America) have sounded public alarms about what they perceive as threats from Muslims in America. Fox News commentator Glenn Beck used his radio pulpit to claim that 10 percent of the world’s Muslims are terrorists – a claim of highly dubious veracity.
Perhaps the most salient danger that King’s proposed hearings might present is that the publicity could provoke certain elements of society to resume violent attacks on Muslims. Anti-Muslim violence spiked after the 9/11 attacks in 2001, and reports of such crimes seemed to burgeon once again last summer as controversy over the so-called Ground Zero mosque in Lower Manhattan roiled across the country.